Asked in Copyright for Florida

Q: Is it legal to copy copyrighted text from an email to a txt for personal use? Is it also legal to copy the txt to a USB?

Note that this is assuming the email was obtained legally.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Thomas James
Thomas James
Answered
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Cokato, MN

A: If, as you say, it is copyrighted material that you are copying, then copying it could be infringement even if no distribution occurs and even if no commercial use is made of it. It would not be infringement, however, if the portion copied is not protected by copyright. For example, if the only thing you copied from the text was an alphabetical list of the names of the residents of a town, then there would be no infringement because a list like that would not be protected by copyright. Some lists are protected, but a list of that kind would not be.

The question whether copying is "illegal" is further complicated by the doctrine of fair use. Even if a certain kind of copying is illegal, a court might allow a "fair use" defense to absolve the infringer of liability in a particular case. Courts apply a four-prong test to determine fair use, and each case is very fact-specific. It requires an analysis of the nature of the work, the purpose of the copying, the amount and substantiality of the portion copied, and the effect of the use on the market for the work, if any.

In short, and as frustrating as the lack of a simple answer may be, the question cannot be answered definitively in a forum like this.

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